John Roney will anchor the Montreal Jazzfest jams again this year, as John Geggie does in Ottawa   ©Brett Delmage, 2003
John Roney will anchor the Montreal Jazzfest jams again this year, as John Geggie does in Ottawa ©Brett Delmage, 2003
For the first time in many years, Ottawa jazz fans will be able see a whole week of the Montreal Jazz Festival without missing any jazz here.

For the last seven years, the Montreal festival's dates had almost completely overlapped the Ottawa festival, but this year it will run from June 28 until July 8. It provides a diverse alternative to what Ottawa offers – with a bit of similarity as well.

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is, quite simply, one of the biggest and most notable jazz festivals in the world. There are big names who regularly perform at Montreal who rarely, if ever, reach Ottawa. The festival also offers a lot of non-jazz indoor concerts (for example, Rufus Wainwright, Tangerine Dream, Seal, or Liza Minnelli): if you want to hear a particular pop act who's touring around now, there's a good chance they might come to Montreal.

Particularly notable indoor jazz concerts in Montreal this year include:

  • American bassist Stanley Clarke, with a four-concert residency from June 28 to July 1: an acoustic duet with pianist Hiromi, a collaboration with the Harlem String Quartet, SMV (with Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten), and his own band.
  • Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen, with a four-concert residency from July 4 to 7, one night solo and the remainder with different collaborators, showcasing his accessible but not simple music
  • Richard Galliano - From Bach to Piazzolla (June 28)
  • Rafael Zaldivar Trio with Greg Osby (June 28)
  • Jack Bruce, Cindy Blackman, John Medeski and Vernon Reid, Spectrum Road (June 28)
  • Vic Vogel & le Jazz Big Band, Influence afro-cubaine (June 29)
  • Patricia Barber & Kenny Werner Duo (June 29)
  • Wayne Shorter Quartet (June 29)
  • Joe Sullivan Sextet with Lorne Lofsky (June 30)
  • Larry Coryell (June 30)
  • Terje Rypdal, Crime Scene with Palle Mikkelborg and the Bergen Big Band (June 30)
  • Dorothée Berryman (July 1)
  • Victor Wooten (July 1)
  • Miles Smiles with Wallace Roney, Bill Evans, Darryl Jones, Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Coryell and Omar Hakim (July 2)
  • Ron Carter Trio with Russell Malone and Donald Vega (July 2)
  • James Carter Organ Trio with guests Miche Braden and Rodney Jones (July 3)
  • Aaron Parks and Joey Calderazzo in a piano duet (July 3)
  • Adrian Vedady Trio with Marc Copland (July 4)
  • Oliver Jones and Peter Appleyard (July 5)
  • Rémi Bolduc, 50th Birthday Celebration, with Guests (July 5)
  • Pat Martino Organ Trio (July 5)
  • Sophie Milman (July 5)
  • Cedar Walton Trio (July 6)
  • Fortin-Léveillé-Donato-Nasturica (July 6)
  • John Pizzarelli (July 6)
  • Norah Jones (July 7)
  • Lorraine Desmarais Trio – Couleurs de lune (July 7)
  • Molly Johnson (July 7)
  • Ranee Lee, A Tribute to Billie Holiday (July 7)
  • The Rat Pack Is Back! (July 7)
  • Battle of the Bands: The Duke Ellington Orchestra vs. The Count Basie Orchestra (the festival's closing concert) (July 8)

If you want to see some artists, who were at the Ottawa festival, again:

  • Bill Frisell, All We Are Saying (June 28)
  • Los Amigos Invisibles (June 28)
  • Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society (June 29)
  • Ninety Miles (June 29)
  • Colin Stetson Solo (June 29)
  • Pierrick Pédron (June 29)
  • Eliane Elias Brasileira Quartet (June 30)
  • Chris Botti (July 1)
  • Get the Blessing (July 1)
  • Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes Piano Duo (July 2)
  • Nellie McKay (July 2)
  • L’Orkestre des Pas Perdus (July 3)
  • Médéric Collignon (July 5)

The Montreal festival also offers a wide selection of free, (mostly) outdoor, evening concerts. They specifically showcase some excellent Canadian artists, including:

  • Ivan Garzon Quartet (June 28)
  • Brahja Waldman Quintet (June 29)
  • Peripheral Vision (June 29)
  • Vincent Gagnon (June 29)
  • Maria Farinha Band (June 30)
  • Parc X Trio (June 30)
  • Alexandre Côté Quintette (June 30)
  • François Jalbert Quartet (June 30)
  • Steve Amirault solo piano (indoors, July 1 and 2)
  • Robi Botos (July 1)
  • The Chris Tarry Group (July 1)
  • Rachel Therrien Quintet (July 2)
  • Emie R Roussel Trio (July 3)
  • Ernesto Cervini (July 4)
  • Karl Jannuska (July 4)
  • Gypsophilia (July 5)
  • Chet Doxas Quartet (July 5)
  • Julia Cleveland Quintet (July 5)
  • Samuel Blais Quartet (July 6)
  • Frank Lozano Montreal Quartet (July 6)
  • TD Jazz Grand Prize Winner (July 7)
  • Les Malcommodes: Félix Stüssi, Pierre Tanguay, Daniel Lessard (July 7)

and some imports:

  • The Sway Machinery (June 30)
  • Kneebody (July 1)
  • Oxford University Jazz Orchestra (July 1)
  • Liane Carroll (July 2)
  • Luca Ciarla quartet (July 4)
  • Paulo Ramos (July 6)

And that doesn't count two Ottawa hometown favourites:

  • Mike Essoudry’s Mash Potato Mashers are playing seven free shows between June 28 and July 1, including a battle of the bands with Roma Carnivale.
  • The Souljazz Orchestra is playing two free evening shows on July 2.

Montreal also integrates more clubs into its offerings: in particular, the Upstairs Club on McKay Street which is featuring:

  • Fraser Hollins invites Brian Blade, Jon Cowherd and Joel Miller (June 28)
  • Becca Stevens (June 29)
  • Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet (June 30)
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio with Jonathan Kreisberg and Johnathan Blake (July 1, 2)
  • Rebecca Martin and Larry Grenadier (July 3)
  • Aaron Goldberg Trio with Rick Rosato and Obed Calvaire (July 4)
  • Julie Lamontagne Solo (July 5)
  • a two-evening residency by trumpeter Tom Harrell's Quartet (July 6 and 7)

Like Ottawa, Montreal offers daily jam sessions, starting at 11 p.m. They're held in the Salon Inspiration at the Hyatt Regency Montreal, and are run by pianist John Roney.

Rémi Bolduc's 50th Birthday Celebration, with Guests will be on July 5  ©Brett Delmage, 2003
Rémi Bolduc's 50th Birthday Celebration, with Guests will be on July 5 ©Brett Delmage, 2003

Festival tips

Most of the festival experience is concentrated around the Place des Arts (PdA) on St. Catherine Street right downtown, between St. Urbain and Bleury. That's where the free stages are concentrated and the main indoor venues: the large Maisonneuve and Wilfred Pelletier concert halls (think the NAC Southam Hall) in the PdA, the beautiful Salle de Gésu (a perfect smaller hall with great acoustics, like the NAC Studio) on Bleury, and L'Astral in the Festival's own building on Ste. Catherine (set up cabaret style, much like the NAC Fourth Stage, but larger). Slightly further away is Club Soda on Saint-Laurent at Ste. Catherine.

There can be large, dense crowds, particularly at night on Ste. Catherine. However, you can generally avoid them by staying away from the very largest stages. Be prepared to stand at the free outdoor concerts (there is some seating, but it's never sufficient). You are not permitted to use folding and portable chairs during shows.

It's quick and easy to walk among the free stages and the indoor venues. In fact, walking and cycling are by far the best way to get around, with the Metro (subway) or buses for longer trips outside or to the festival area. Montreal car traffic is notoriously aggressive, and parking near the festival site will be scarce and/or expensive. There's good public transit: the underground Metro and buses, which generally run late enough to get you back to your hotel even from 10:30 p.m. concerts. (You can even compare your Metro experience to what Ottawa might get with its planned underground light rail tunnel.)

It is possible to get a bad meal in Montreal (we've done it), but the odds are highly against you. The restaurant offerings are overall diverse and delicious, with a good number within walking distance of the Festival (including Chinatown). You can even get a healthy meal in the Complexe Desjardins food court. Two standouts: Shambala on St. Denis, a Tibetan restaurant with meat and vegetarian dumplings to die for, and Juliette et Chocolat on the corner of St Laurent and Prince Arthur, whose chocolate offerings are … intense and all-encompassing. And Le Commensal (on St. Denis and on Ste. Catherine) never fails to offer a delicious vegetarian option.

If you need to clear your head for a few hours from music, Montreal has some lovely indoor and outdoor attractions. Walk around the islands where Expo 67 was held; visit the Botanical Guardians and the Insectorium; hike or bike (or take the bus) to the top of the Mountain and see an unparalleled view. There are also some world-class museums: for example, the Musee des Beaux Arts on Sherbrooke, or the Canadian Centre for Architecture near Guy and Rene Levesque.

Your editors attended all (or as much as we could) of the Montreal Jazz Festival for many years until 2004, when the Ottawa and Montreal festivals started to overlap – and then attended what we could after that. At only about two hours away from Ottawa, it's easily accessible by car or Greyhound for even a day trip or a short stay-cation, and is well worth checking out by jazz fans. will be reporting from the Montreal Jazz Festival, starting July 1.

    – Alayne McGregor

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